When to Say ‘No’ to an Acting Job

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Ever wonder if you should say “no” to an acting job? Maybe you’ve been working with the same non-equity theater for years and want to move up to equity contracts. Perhaps you’re no longer interested in taking unpaid work. Maybe you’d like to move from co-stars to recurring roles on TV.

Whatever the situation, it can be difficult to say no if you aren’t sure when and where your next acting opportunity is coming from. But passing on an acting job if it doesn’t serve you personally, professionally, or financially can often be a smart business move to make space for bigger opportunities that do move you forward.

At the beginning of your acting career, you may have instinctively said yes to every opportunity that came your way and if you’re still new to acting, it can be helpful advice. I know it served me well to say yes to almost every opportunity in my early years. I took extra work, unpaid student films, and non-union theater tours because the goal at that time was to build my résumé, meet and work with reputable industry professionals and get as much experience as possible. These were the foundational years of building experience, training, and my network of relationships. 

But if you have big dreams and goals for your career (beyond unpaid work), there will likely come a time when you must begin to say no. In fact, I believe you can trace a successful actor’s career around the jobs they turn down. Would Meryl Streep or Sterling K. Brown have said yes to background work several years into their career if the goal was to star in feature films?

READ: The Secret to Networking Success? Be a Good Listener

To help you figure out whether to take or pass on a job offer, here are three things to ask before making a decision:

1. Does this job align with your current goal(s)?
What is the long-term plan for your career? If the job feels like a mile-marker, say yes.  If it feels like a step back, it might be the right time to say no.

2. Does it provide a decent amount of money and/or access to reputable industry relationships? Will you be making a decent (as defined by you) income from this gig? Will you be working with a reputable director or writer for the first time? Are you strengthening an industry relationship that already exists? Is the job just gas money and are you cool with that? All of these could be reasons to say yes.

3. Does it feel right?
Acknowledge your gut instinct. Does the prospect of working this gig make you excited? Check in with how you are treated during the audition and offer process. If you’re getting weird vibes from the creative team or producer, be sure to acknowledge your feelings, do your research, and listen to your gut.

Still not sure whether you should take this gig? Check out this guide to help determine if you’re making the best decision for you.

If you do decide to say no to an opportunity, please know that as long as you continue to train, market, and network, there will be another opportunity. I promise.

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The views expressed in this article are solely that of the individual(s) providing them,
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Backstage or its staff.

Elise Arsenault
Elise Arsenault is an actor, coach, and founder of The Global Actor. She offers private and group coaching for actors looking to book work and live life in multiple markets. Get your #GlobalActor GPS at www.workwithelise.com/globalactorgps.html. More at www.theglobalactor.com.
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